Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician, to Jeduthun. It was fit that another leader of the psalmody should take his turn. No harp should be silent in the courts of the Lord's house. A Psalm of Asaph. Asaph was a man of exercised mind, and often touched the minor key; he was thoughtful, contemplative, believing, but withal there was a dash of sadness about him, and this imparted a tonic flavor to his songs. To follow him with understanding, it is needful to have done business on the great waters, and weathered many an Atlantic gale.
Verse 1. I cried unto God with my voice.
This Psalm has much sadness in itóbut we may be sure it will end well, for it begins with prayer, and prayer never has an ill outcome. Asaph did not run to man but to the Lord, and to him he went, not with studied, stately, stilted wordsóbut with a cryóthe natural, unaffected, sincere expression of pain. He used his voice also, for though vocal utterance is not necessary to the life of prayer, it often seems forced upon us by the energy of our desires. Sometimes the soul feels compelled to use the voice, for thus it finds a freer vent for its agony. It is a comfort to hear the alarm bell ringing when the house is invaded by thieves.
Even unto God with my voice.
He returned to his pleading. If once sufficed not, he cried again. He needed an answer, he expected one, he was eager to have it soon, therefore he cried again and again, and with his voice too, for the sound helped his earnestness.
And he gave ear unto me.
Importunity prevailed. The gate opened to the steady knock. It shall be so with us in our hour of trial, the God of grace will hear us in due season.
Verse 2. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord.
All day long his distress drove him to his God, so that when night came he continued still in the same search. God had hidden his face from his servant, therefore the first care of the troubled saint was to seek his Lord again. This was going to the root of the matter and removing the main impediment first. Diseases and tribulations are easily enough endured when God is found of usóbut without him they crush us to the earth.
My sore ran in the night, and ceased not.
As by day so by night his trouble was on him and his prayer continued. Some of us know what it is, both physically and spiritually, to be compelled to use these words: no respite has been afforded us by the silence of the night, our bed has been a rack to us, our body has been in torment, and our spirit in anguish. It appears that this sentence is wrongly translated, and should be, "my hand was stretched out all night," this shows that his prayer ceased notóbut with uplifted hand he continued to seek support of his God.
My soul refused to be comforted.
He refused some comforts as too weak for his case, others as untrue, others as unhallowed; but chiefly because of distraction, he declined even those grounds of consolation which ought to have been effectual with him. As a sick man turns away even from the most nourishing food, so did he. It is impossible to comfort those who refuse to be comforted. You may bring them to the waters of the promiseóbut who shall make them drink if they will not do so? Many a daughter of despondency has pushed aside the cup of gladness, and many a son of sorrow has hugged his chains. There are times when we are suspicious of good news, and are not to be persuaded into peace, though the happy truth should be as plain before us as the King's highway.
Verse 3. I remembered God, and was troubled.
He who is the wellspring of delight to faith becomes an object of dread to the psalmist's distracted heart. The justice, holiness, power, and truth of God have all a dark side, and indeed all the attributed may be made to look black upon us if our eye be evil; even the brightness of divine love blinds us, and fills us with a horrible suspicion that we have neither part nor lot in it. He is wretched indeed whose memories of the Ever Blessed One prove distressing to him; yet the best of men know the depth of this abyss.
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.
He mused and mused but only sank the deeper. His inward disquietudes did not fall asleep as soon as they were expressedóbut rather they returned upon him, and leaped over him like raging billows of an angry sea. It was not his body alone which smartedóbut his noblest nature writhed in pain, his life itself seemed crushed into the earth. It is in such a case that death is coveted as a relief, for life becomes an intolerable burden. With no spirit left in us to sustain our infirmity, our case becomes forlorn; like man in a tangle of briars who is stripped of his clothes, every hook of the thorns becomes a lancet, and we bleed with ten thousand wounds.
Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what your servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!
Let the song go softly; this is no merry dance for the swift feet of the daughters of music, pause awhile, and let sorrow take breath between her sighs.
Verse 4. You hold my eyes waking.
The fears which your strokes excite in me forbid my eyelids to fall, my eyes continue to watch as sentinels forbidden to rest. Sleep is a great comforteróbut it forsakes the sorrowful, and then their sorrow deepens and eats into the soul. If God holds the eyes waking, what anodyne shall give us rest? How much we owe to him who gives his beloved sleep!
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
Great griefs are silent. Deep streams brawl not among the pebbles like the shallow brooklets which live on passing showers. Words fail the man whose heart fails him. He had cried to God but he could not speak to man, what a mercy it is that if we can do the first, we need not despair though the second should be quite out of our power. Sleepless and speechless Asaph was reduced to great extremities, and yet he rallied, and even so shall we.
Verse 5. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.
If no good was in the present, memory ransacked the past to find consolation. She gladly would borrow a light from the altars of yesterday to light the gloom of today. It is our duty to search for comfort, and not in sullen indolence yield to despair; in quiet contemplation topics may occur to us which will prove the means of raising our spirits, and there is scarcely any theme more likely to prove consolatory than that which deals with the days of yore, the years of the olden time, when the Lord's faithfulness was tried and proved by hosts of his people.
Yet it seems that even this consideration created depression rather than delight in the good man's soul, for he contrasted his own mournful condition with all that was bright in the venerable experiences of ancient saints, and so complained the more. Ah, sad calamity of a jaundiced mind, to see nothing as it should be seenóbut everything as through a veil of mist.
Verse 6. I call to remembrance my song in the night.
At other times his spirit had a song for the darkest houróbut now he could only recall the strain as a departed memory. Where is the harp which once thrilled sympathetically to the touch of these joyful fingers? My tongue, have you forgotten to praise? Have you no skill except in mournful ditties? Ah me, how sadly fallen am I! How lamentable that I, who like the nightingale could charm the night, am now fit comrade for the hooting owl.
I commune with my own heart.
He did not cease from introspection, for he was resolved to find the bottom of his sorrow, and trace it to its fountain head. He made sure work of it by talking not with his mind onlyóbut with his inmost heart; it was heart work with him. He was no idler, no melancholy trifler; he was up and at it, resolutely resolved that he would not tamely die of despairóbut would fight for his hope to the last moment of life.
And my spirit made diligent search.
He ransacked his experience, his memory, his intellect, his whole nature, his entire self, either to find comfort or to discover the reason why it was denied him. That man will not die by the hand of the enemy who has enough force of soul remaining to struggle in this fashion.
Verse 7. Will the Lord cast off forever?
This was one of the matters he inquired into. He painfully knew that the Lord might leave his people for a seasonóbut his fear was that the time might be prolonged and have no close; eagerly, therefore, he asked, will the Lord utterly and finally reject those who are his own, and allow them to be the objects of his contemptuous reprobation, his everlasting cast offs? This he was persuaded could not be. No instance in the years of ancient times led him to fear that such could be the case.
And will he be favorable no more?
Favorable he had been; would that goodwill never again show itself? Was the sun set never to rise again? Would spring never follow the long and dreary winter? The questions are suggested by fearóbut they are also the cure for fear. It is a blessed thing to have grace enough to look such questions in the face, for their answer is self evident and eminently fitted to cheer the heart.
Verse 8. Is his mercy clean gone forever?
If he has no love for his elect, has he not still his mercy left? Has that dried up? Has he no pity for the sorrowful?
Does his promise fail for evermore?
His word is pledged to those who plead with him; is that become of none effect? Shall it be said that from one generation to another the Lord's word has fallen to the ground; whereas aforetime he kept his covenant to all generations of them that fear him? It is a wise thing thus to put unbelief through the catechism. Each one of the questions is a dart aimed at the very heart of despair. Thus have we also in our days of darkness done battle for life itself.
Verse 9. Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has El, the Mighty One, become great in everything but grace? Does he know how to afflictóbut not how to uphold? Can he forget anything? Above all, can he forget to exercise that attribute which lies nearest to his essence, for he is love!
Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?
Are the pipes of goodness choked up so that love can no more flow through them? Do the affections of Jehovah no longer yearn towards his own beloved children? Thus with cord after cord unbelief is smitten and driven out of the soul; it raises questions and we will meet it with questions: it makes us think and act ridiculously, and we will heap scorn upon it. The argument of this passage assumes very much the form of a reductio ad absurdam. Strip it naked, and mistrust is a monstrous piece of folly.
Selah. Here rest awhile, for the battle of questions needs a lull.
Verse 10. And I said, This is my infirmity.
He has won the day, he talks reasonably now, and surveys the field with a cooler mind. He confesses that unbelief is an infirmity, a weakness, a folly, a sin. He may also be understood to mean, "this is my appointed sorrow," I will bear it without complaint. When we perceive that our affliction is meted out by the Lord, and is the ordained portion of our cupówe become reconciled to it, and no longer rebel against the inevitable. Why should we not be content if it be the Lord's will? What he arranges, it is not for us to cavil at.
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
Here a good deal is supplied by our translators, and they make the sense to be that the psalmist would console himself by remembering the goodness of God to himself and others of his people in times gone by: but the original seems to consist only of the words, "the years of the right hand of the most High," and to express the idea that his long continued affliction, reaching through several years, was allotted to him by the Sovereign Lord of all. It is well when a consideration of the divine goodness and greatness silences all complaining, and creates a childlike acquiescence.
Verse 11. I will remember the works of the Lord.
Fly back my soul, away from present turmoil, to the grandeurs of history, the sublime deeds of Jehovah, the Lord Almighty; for he is the same and is ready even now to defend his servants as in days of yore.
Surely I will remember your wonders of old.
Whatever else may glide into oblivion, the marvelous works of the Lord in the ancient days must not be allowed to be forgotten. Memory is a fit handmaid for faith. When faith has its seven years of famine, memory like Joseph in Egypt opens her granaries.
Verse 12. I will meditate also on all your work.
Sweet work to enter into Jehovah's work of grace, and there to lie down and ruminate, every thought being absorbed in the one precious subject.
And talk of your doings.
It is well that the overflow of the mouth should indicate the good matter which fills the heart. Meditation makes rich talking; it is to be lamented that so much of the conversation of professors is utterly barren, because they take no time for contemplation. A meditative man should be a talker, otherwise he is a mental miser, a mill which grinds grain only for the miller. The subject of our meditation should be choice, and then our task will be edifying; if we meditate on folly and affect to speak wisdom, our double mindedness will soon be known unto all men. Holy talk following upon meditation has a consoling power in it for ourselves as well as for those who listen, hence its value in the connection in which we find it in this passage.
Verse 13. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary, or in holiness.
In the holy place we understand our God, and rest assured that all his ways are just and right. When we cannot trace his way, because it is "in the sea," it is a rich consolation that we can trust it, for it is in holiness. We must have fellowship with holiness if we would understand "the ways of God to man." He who would be wise, must worship. The pure in heart shall see God, and pure worship is the way to the philosophy of providence.
Who is so great a God as our God?
In him the good and the great are blended. He surpasses in both. None can for a moment be compared with the mighty One of Israel.
Verse 14. You are the God that do wonders.
You alone are Almighty. The false gods are surrounded with the pretense of wondersóbut you really work them. It is your peculiar prerogative to work marvels; it is no new or strange thing with you, it is according to your custom and use. Herein is renewed reason for holy confidence. It would be a great wonder if we did not trust the wonder working God.
You have declared your strength among the people.
Not only Israelóbut Egypt, Bashan, Edom, Philistia, and all the nations have seen Jehovah's power. It was no secret in the olden time and to this day it is published abroad. God's providence and grace are both full of displays of his power; he is in the latter peculiarly conspicuous as "mighty to save." Who will not be strong in faith when there is so strong an arm to lean upon? Shall our trust be doubtful when his power is beyond all question? My soul see to it that these considerations banish your mistrusts.
Verse 15. You have with your arm redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.
All Israel, the two tribes of Joseph as well as those which sprang from the other sons of Jacob, were brought out of Egypt by a display of divine power, which is here ascribed not to the hand but to the arm of the Lord, because it was the fullness of his might. Ancient believers were in the constant habit of referring to the wonders of the Red Sea, and we also can unite with them, taking care to add the song of the Lamb to that of Moses, the servant of God. The comfort derivable from such a meditation is obvious and abundant, for he who brought up his people from the house of bondage will continue to redeem and deliver until we come into the promised rest.
Selah. Here we have another pause preparatory to a final burst of song.
Verse 16. The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you; they were afraid.
As if conscious of its Maker's presence, the sea was ready to flee from before his face. The conception is highly poetical, the psalmist has the scene before his mind's eye, and describes it gloriously. The water saw its Godóbut man refuses to discern him; it was afraidóbut proud sinners are rebellious and fear not the Lord.
The depths also were troubled. To their heart the floods were made afraid. Quiet caves of the sea, far down in the abyss, were moved with fear; and the lowest channels were left bare, as the water rushed away from its place, in terror of the God of Israel.
Verse 17. The clouds poured out water.
Obedient to the Lord, the lower region of the atmosphere yielded its aid to overthrow the Egyptian host. The cloudy chariots of Heaven hurried forward to discharge their floods.
The skies sent out a sound.
From the loftier aerial regions thundered the dread artillery of the Lord Almighty. Peal on peal the skies sounded over the heads of the routed enemies, confusing their minds and adding to their horror.
Your arrows also went abroad.
Lightnings flew like bolts from the bow of God. Swiftly, hither and thither, went the red tongues of flame, on helm and shield they gleamed. Behold, how all the creatures wait upon their God, and show themselves strong to overthrow his enemies.
Verse 18. The voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind.
Rushing on with terrific swiftness and bearing all before it, the storm was as a chariot driven furiously, and a voice was heard (even your voice, O Lord!) out of the fiery car, even as when a mighty man in battle urges forward his charger, and shouts to it aloud. All Heaven resounded with the voice of the Lord.
Your lightnings lightened the world.
The entire globe shone in the blaze of Jehovah's lightnings. No need for other light amid the battle of that terrible night, every wave gleamed in the fire flashes, and the shore was lit up with the blaze. How pale were men's faces in that hour, when all around the fire leaped from sea to shore, from crag to hill, from mountain to star, until the whole universe was illuminated in honor of Jehovah's triumph.
The earth trembled and shook.
It quaked and quaked again. Sympathetic with the sea, the solid shore forgot its quiescence and heaved in dread. How dreadful are you, O God, when you come forth in your majesty to humble your arrogant adversaries.
Verse 19. Your way is in the sea.
Far down in secret channels of the deep is your roadway; when you will you can make a sea a highway for your glorious march.
And your path is in the great waters.
There, where the billows surge and swell, you still do walk; Lord of each crested wave.
And your footsteps are not known.
None can follow your tracks by foot or eye. You are alone in your glory, and your ways are hidden from mortal cognizance. Your purposes you will accomplishóbut the means are often concealed, yes, they need no concealing, they are in themselves too vast and mysterious for human understanding. Glory be to you, O Jehovah.
Verse 20. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
What a transition from tempest to peace, from wrath to love. Quietly as a flock Israel was guided on, by human agency which veiled the excessive glory of the divine presence. The smiter of Egypt was the shepherd of Israel. He drove his foes before himóbut went before his people. Heaven and earth fought on his side against the sons of Hamóbut they were equally subservient to the interests of the sons of Jacob. Therefore, with devout joy and full of consolation, we close this Psalm; the song of one who forgot how to speak and yet learned to sing far more sweetly than his fellows.